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MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition Video Card Review

MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition Video Card Review

MSI has one of the best-looking NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960s yet, with its GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC video card and its TwinFrozr V cooling.

@anthony256
Published Mon, Feb 9 2015 9:09 AM CST   |   Updated Thu, Jul 30 2020 4:20 PM CDT
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction

And so we continue our onslaught of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 reviews, where we started off with the ZOTAC GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition, continuing with the EVGA GeForce GTX 960 SuperSC ACX 2.0+, and now, the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition.

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VIEW GALLERY - 77 IMAGES

Most of you know who MSI is by now, but if you don't, they've been around for quite some time making motherboards, and eventually shifted into video cards, where they've become a true wrecking ball against their competitors. Mainly because of their kick ass cooling setup known as TwinFrozr, of which the new GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition features the latest version of it, TwinFrozr V. We'll go over that more in the review.

Quick Specs

MSI has chosen to also stay very close to the reference GTX 960 board, offering up 2GB of GDDR5 RAM on a 128-bit memory bus. As for display outputs, we have one dual-link DVI output, one HDMI 2.0, and three DisplayPort outputs.

Then we have the TwinFrozr V cooling, which also has 'Zero Frozr' technology, which will turn the fans off when the card is idle, making the card completely silent. Again, we'll go into more detail about that shortly.

Availability & Price

NVIDIA has hit a great price range with the GeForce GTX 960, with MSI selling its overclocked GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition for $219 on Amazon. There's plenty available, and your local retailer should also be keeping these in stock. As usual, call up before you walk in, or check your favorite e-tailers website.

PRICING: You can find the MSI Computer Graphics Cards GTX 960 GAMING 2G for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The MSI Computer Graphics Cards GTX 960 GAMING 2G retails for $209.99 at Amazon.

Canada: The MSI Computer Graphics Cards GTX 960 GAMING 2G retails for CDN$338.68 at Amazon Canada.

Packaging & Box Contents

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MSI has always had good looking boxes, with the GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition continuing this effort. On the front, we have the list of NVIDIA technologies that the Maxwell-powered GPU can handle, as well as a tease of the TwinFrozr V cooler inside.

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On the back, we're introduced to the new Torx fan, SuperSU PIPE and Zero Frozr cooling technologies. MSI also provide a nice gaming app that we're going to talk about later on in the review.

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There's not much happening on the sides of the box.

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Inside of the box, we have a separate box with all of the goodies inside.

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Inside of the box, we have a pamphlet with MSI's other GAMING series products, a Quick User's guide, installation CD and a DVI to D-sub converter.

Detailed Look

When taking the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition out of the box, you'll have a ZeroFrozr sticker on the front. You'll obviously need to remove this before using it, but it highlights the fact that this card is completely silent during some operation. MSI warns gamers that this will happen, so don't worry if your shiny new GTX 960 is totally silent, it's a good thing!

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Face on, the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition is a beautiful card. We have the signature red and black design from MSI, with two great fans to keep the card cool. We go into greater detail on the cooler below.

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On the back, there's not much to see. MSI has chosen not to deploy a back plate, but we can see the massive heat sink array popping its head up at the top of the card.

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MSI has stuck very close to the reference GTX 960 from NVIDIA when it comes to display connectivity, which is great. We have three DisplayPort outputs, one HDMI 2.0 and one Dual Link DVI.

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Here, we have the elaborate heat sink design, and the 8-pin PCIe power connector.

Card Specifications & Cooling Setup

Card Specifications

The MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC has three different modes, which provides users with a great array of options of performance, power and noise.

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Starting with Silent Mode, which has the Core at 1127MHz with a Boost Clock of 1178MHz. The Gaming Mode bumps this up to 1190MHz on the Core, while the Boost is 1253MHz and the OC Mode boosts it up to 1216MHz, while Boost Clock is at 1279MHz.

MSI has stuck with the reference design of the GeForce GTX 960 when it comes to the 128-bit memory bus and 2GB of VRAM which is no different to the competition. We have four display outputs like the other GTX 960s we've reviewed, with three DisplayPort outputs, one HDMI 2.0 and a Dual Link DVI output.

The MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC has MSI's redesigned and totally awesome Twin Frozr V cooler. We'll jump into the new cooler below, but there's also a single 8-pin PCIe power connector on the card too, which ensures it'll have enough power during those late night gaming sessions while it's being overclocked like crazy.

Cooling Setup

MSI cards have always been something that I've been attracted to, but not only because most of the time they look great, but the Twin Frozr cooling technology MSI has created is one of the best cooling setups available on video cards today.

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The new Twin Frozr V cooler is 12% cooler on a GeForce GTX 770 when compared to the Twin Frozr IV, while the GTX 980 sees temperatures drop 17% when compared to the reference GTX 980 cooler. This is impressive, as we're seeing double-digit improvements, even when using the reference GTX 980 design, which is already great.

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MSI uses a Torx fan, which is a big improvement over the traditional fans, as it will maximize downwards airflow and air dispersion, right down onto that chunky heat sink below it. The Advanced Dispersion Blade design "generates 19% more airflow without increasing drag for supreme silent performance". We will talk about this in our detailed run of the card, which to just tease you now, was totally silent for virtually all of our testing.

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A gigantic heat pipe runs through the entire card, with MSI's SuperSU Architecture being the "best cooling solution for video cards", according to the company. The GPU itself is cooled by a gigantic nickel-plated copper base which is connected to Super pipes (8mm heat pipes). The heat pipe layout also increases the efficiency by reducing the length of unused heat pipe and special SU-form design.

Moving onto the Twin Frozr, which MSI introduced in 2008, totally eliminates fan noise in low-load situations. The cooler does this by completely stopping the fans when they're not needed, such as right now while I type this review and have music playing through Spotify with 15+ tabs open in Chrome, the fans are inactive.

Testing Method & Test System Configuration

Note - Lack of GPUs

Because I'm only just starting out, I don't have a slew of GPUs to test with. As our reviews of the GeForce GTX 960s continue into the coming weeks, I have other GPUs on the way. I can then throw in some numbers from AMD Radeon cards - but for now, we're only looking at the GeForce GTX 780 and GTX 980 both in reference form directly from NVIDIA, the ZOTAC GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition, the EVGA GeForce GTX 960 SuperSC ACX 2.0+, and the new MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC we have here to review today.

Testing Method

Because I'm just starting out reviewing GPUs, we're going to slowly evolve our benchmarking setup. I'm not going to dive into the deep end and start testing out real-time FPS, as this will hurt the quality of the reviews. Instead, I'd like to nail these initial reviews and then we can start doing real-time numbers of games like Far Cry 4, and Star Citizen. For now, I've played Battlefield 4 on a 64-player server to provide some real-world performance numbers.

For now, I'm going to be using the same suite of benchmarks I've been using on my Tweakipedia articles, which uses a mix of synthetic benchmarks with Futuremark's 3DMark and Unigine Heaven. After that, we have a bunch of titles with built-in benchmarks (which does not represent actual in-game performance) but they are repeatable for you at home to gauge the performance of your PC or GPU.

Over time, I will be adding in new benchmarks and a new section that will concentrate solely on real-time gaming benchmarks. This will take more time per review, as I'll have to invest time into actually physically playing the games, but it'll be worth it in the long run. For now, let's get right into the synthetic benchmarks and see how this MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition performs.

Something Different

Most people purchasing this card are only going to be gaming at up to 1080p, as the 128-bit memory bus and 2GB of VRAM is going to severely limit and hinder performance above that resolution. 2560x1440 (1440p) and 3840x2160 (4K) are going to be resolutions that this card won't be used for (mostly). That's not to say that you won't purchase this card for it, but I would highly recommend that people looking to buy any of the GeForce GTX 960s to only get one if you have a 1080p capable monitor, and plan to not upgrade for a while.

Test System Configuration

We only recently built our new X99-powered system, something you can read about here. As for the detailed specifications, this is what we're running:

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  • CPU: Intel Core i7 5820K processor w/Corsair H110 cooler
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE X99 Gaming G1 Wi-Fi
  • RAM: 16GB Corsair Vengeance 2666MHz DDR4
  • Storage: 240GB SanDisk Extreme II and 480GB SanDisk Extreme II
  • Chassis: Lian Li T60 Pit Stop
  • PSU: Corsair AX1200i digital PSU
  • Software: Windows 7 Ultimate x64
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We're running the system at stock CPU speeds, which will provide more of a 'real-world' feel to our benchmarks. Sure, this isn't an i7-5960X at 5GHz, but what person is going to team up an incredibly expensive CPU with a mid-range GPU? Not many.

Our GPU tests are changing, shifting toward more of a real-world feel. But don't worry, we will be doing some crazy balls-to-the-wall tests that will see serious overclocks, Extreme Edition processors, and much more in the coming months. For the most part, we will be doing more real-world testing by teaming up the right processor with the right GPU in its price category.

Even still, most people would be running an LGA 1150 socket Core i5 or mid-range AMD FX-8350 with a GeForce GTX 960, so we're still giving it some better guts as a CPU.

Benchmarks - Synthetic (3DMark and Heaven)

3DMark Fire Strike - 1080p

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3DMark Fire Strike Extreme - 1440p

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3DMark Fire Strike Ultra - 4K

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Heaven - 1080p

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Heaven - 1440p

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Heaven - 4K

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The MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition keeps up with the other GTX 960s, but still falls behind slightly at 1080p in 3DMark. The same cannot be said for 1440p and 4K within 3DMark, but the difference isn't all that much. We will do some overclocking soon to see if the MSI card can jump up and ahead of the competition soon.

Moving onto Heaven, we see that the MSI card keeps its ground. We have virtually identical results at 1080p, while 1440p sees the MSI card losing out by around 10%, and around 20% at 4K.

Game Benchmarks (1080p)

Battlefield 4

This is one game that we did differently, as it does not feature a built-in benchmarking feature. When it comes to Battlefield 4, there are countless ways you can benchmark it. Some find a spot in the single player campaign which is easily repeatable, and use that. For our testing, we've chosen to use a 64-player online multiplayer server for real-time performance statistics.

We joined a 64-player map and played for five minutes using FRAPS, pulling our minimum/average and maximum FPS. We did this for each test, running 1080p at Medium/Ultra and then 1440p at Medium/Ultra - but for the 1440p tests, we disabled AA as it is quite stressful on the GPU at that resolution. We're only doing this to give you a look at what BF4 performance is like on the GTX 960 AMP! Edition, and 1440p with 4x MSAA isn't an ideal way of doing that.

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And again, this time with the Ultra preset.

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GRID Autosport

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Metro: Last Light

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

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Thief

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Sniper Elite 3

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Tomb Raider

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BioShock Infinite

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DiRT Showdown

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Batman: Arkham Knight

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You can find our performance summary of all of our gaming tests later in the review.

Game Benchmarks (1440p)

Battlefield 4

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GRID Autosport

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Metro: Last Light

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

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Thief

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Sniper Elite 3

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Tomb Raider

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BioShock Infinite

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DiRT Showdown

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Batman: Arkham Knight

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You can find our performance summary of all of our gaming tests later in the review.

Performance - 4K

Battlefield 4

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GRID Autosport

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Metro: Last Light

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

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Thief

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Sniper Elite 3

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Tomb Raider

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BioShock Infinite

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DiRT Showdown

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Batman: Arkham Knight

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You can find our performance summary of all of our gaming tests later in the review.

Performance Summary

How We Judge Performance

Something I'm going to change from our old review style is I'm going to be choosing a segment of where this card will fall into for mainstream consumers. The people buying the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition, or any GTX 960 for that matter, will be playing at 1080p or below.

I've obviously benchmarked the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition at 1440p and 4K, but those results will not be impacting my Final Thoughts on the card at all. Any and all judgment on this card is going to come from the 1080p benchmarking, its overclocking potential, noise, price and power consumption.

How Does the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition Stack Up?

Overall, the performance provided on the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC was exactly what we expected: it fell right in line with the two previous GTX 960s we've reviewed.

Performance at 1080p

Starting with the Medium preset at 1080p in Battlefield 4, we see a great jump to 123FPS average which is some great performance out of the $209 video card. It's not as good as the 137FPS average on the EVGA card, but we're seeing over 120FPS+ average, which is something we can't complain about.

On the Ultra settings (without AA applied), it drops down to 80FPS which is quite a big drop from the 107FPS average that the EVGA card was pulling. Still, 80FPS average with Ultra settings enabled is quite good, and I'm sure we'll see some improvements on the overclocking which we'll jump into soon.

Versing the MSI card against the ZOTAC and EVGA cards, we can see that we're getting very similar performance. This is something that was always going to happen with the GTX 960s. In Metro: Last Light, all three cards are pretty much on the same FPS - 50-something FPS average. Thief is the same story, and so is Sniper Elite 3 and Tomb Raider.

Performance at 1440p

Moving up to 2560x1440 on Battlefield 4 with the Medium preset, the MSI card loses to both the EVGA and ZOTAC cards, but we still have 80FPS average. Something we find more than playable, but the EVGA card really excels here with 105FPS average. Shifting over to the Ultra preset (again, without AA), we see 58FPS average, which is identical to that of the ZOTAC card, but loses to the 70FPS average that the EVGA card is able to maintain.

When cranking up to 2560x1440, or 1440p, we see the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC keeping its ground once again. It loses out by around 7FPS to the EVGA and ZOTAC cards in GRID: Autosport, while it continues to keep up (but slightly) lose to the EVGA and ZOTAC GTX 960s in Metro: Last Light.

Across the board, the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC will keep up with any of the GTX 960s out there, especially when overclocking comes into play. At 1440p, you can tweak the settings and get 30-60FPS out of any game on the market without a problem.

Performance at 4K

At 4K, the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition is still around 10% slower than the EVGA and ZOTAC cards, but still pumps out a 44FPS average with the Medium preset enabled. Moving up to the Ultra preset (without AA), we see an average of 29FPS.

This is where the GeForce GTX 960, no matter the brand, is bought to its knees: 4K. The MSI card performs around 5-10% worse than the ZOTAC or EVGA variants. In games like Thief we see it perform worse, dropping to 13FPS average compared to the 16FPS on its competitors.

Tomb Raider drops to 30FPS average at 4K, while the EVGA scores 35FPS and the ZOTAC with 37FPS. Let's see if overclocking can fix some of this, but your results may vary, of course.

Overclocking

Overclocking - Let's See How Far We Can Go

This was the part of the review I was looking forward to most, seeing just how far we could push the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition video card. With a stock GPU clock of 1216MHz, Boost clock of 1279MHz and Memory clock of 1753MHz, we had some good results on the MSI card.

We were able to drive up the GPU clock to 1340MHz, a respectable 124MHz increase. The Boost moved from 1279MHz to 1403MHz. No change to the power settings were applied, or the fan speeds. The card remained completely silent, which doesn't surprise us. Now, onto the overclocked performance in some of our benchmarks.

Battlefield 4

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Testing Battlefield 4 out once again at 1440p on the Medium preset, we see an increase from 80FPS average to 103FPS. This allows the card to compete much better against the EVGA GTX 960, getting close to its 105FPS average. The minimum FPS also increases dramatically, from 58FPS to 84FPS.

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Battlefield 4 with its Ultra preset (AA disabled) sees a nice improvement from the overclock on the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition. We scale from 58FPS average, to 65FPS average.

Metro: Last Light

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Metro: Last Light also sees a nice bump, jumping up from 32FPS to 34FPS with our overclock.

Heaven - 1440p

The overclock on our MSI card also provides Heaven with nearly 10% more performance, with 28FPS average versus 26FPS at stock speeds.

Power Consumption and Sound Testing

Power Consumption

Power consumption is something I didn't think would change with the MSI variant of the GeForce GTX 960 and I was right. It fell right into the same shoes as the two other GTX 960s we've reviewed so far with 240W being drawn by the entire system from the wall.

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Sound Testing

Sadly sound testing was not available for this review, but it will be added soon for future reviews.

Software

I've been using MSI's Afterburner as my overclocking tool for as long as I can remember, with a great overlay that displays various temperatures, clock speeds, VRAM usage and more across your games. So when my first MSI video card arrived for review, I was keen to see what MSI had waiting for me on the software side of things. As you install the software, it will show you various screenshots on what it can do for you.

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MSI calls it their "Gaming App" which has some great features such as the MSI Scenamax technology, which changes the color profile on your screen so that it's better for your eyes depending on the task at hand.

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MSI's Gaming App can also overclock your GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition card, with three profiles that we talked about before: OC Mode, Gaming Mode and Silent Mode. The application also allows you to play around with the LED on the video card, which is a nice touch.

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Here we can see what the software can do for us, in its various modes for the screen contrast.

What's Hot, What's Not & Final Thoughts

This is where you can fast forward to the final section of the review, and get a quick recap and points on the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition.

What's Hot

Silence: All of the GeForce GTX 960s we've tested so far have been silent, but MSI's GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition takes it to an entire new level. I didn't hear the card during any of my testing, apart from the fans spinning up from time to time to keep it cool. Even still, the fans are next to silent, and that's on an open air test bench. In a chassis, you're not going to hear it, period.

Unbeatable Price Point: At just over $200, you're getting amazing value for money. NVIDIA has made a GPU that vendors can price so competitively, that you're getting a 1080p60 card for an insane price.

1080p 60FPS Gaming Has Met its Match: We said this with the other GeForce GTX 960s and we'll say it again. 1080p 60FPS gaming is available for a price point that is unbelievable. This couldn't have happened a year ago.

Great Cooling System: MSI's Twin Frozr V cooler is the best we've tested yet, with a great big heat sink array that keeps the GM206 core nice and cool. Not only that, but it's incredibly silent, so those late night gaming sessions won't have you hearing it through your headphones.

MSI's Software: MSI is a king of its software, with its Afterburner software being some of the most used overclocking and stat-monitoring software in the world. This is a big part of the experience these days, great software: something MSI owns right now.

Maxwell Architecture: As we detailed in our GeForce GTX 960 architecture overview article, NVIDIA has got some magic with its Maxwell architecture. We wouldn't be here today praising up the work of MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC if it weren't for the engineering efforts NVIDIA went to with Maxwell. Truly impressive stuff.

What's Not

Not As Fast As The Competition: The MSI card is strong overall, but it does lose out to the ZOTAC and EVGA variants by around 5-10% in most games. There is some great headroom for overclocking, but not everyone wants to overclock the card. This isn't necessarily a 'bad' thing, but it's something worth noting.

Final Thoughts

I was waiting by my door for the MSI GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition to come, and while I wasn't disappointed by it, I wasn't surprised by it either. I thought out of the three GTX 960s I've reviewed so far, the MSI would be the stand out, and it wasn't.

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That's not to say that the MSI card is a bad card, it's just at its default clocks (which most people will run it at), it doesn't beat the ZOTAC or EVGA cards. When it comes to the cooling, the Twin Frozr V is second to none. The ACX 2.0+ cooler on the EVGA card is great, but the MSI card looks better. The fans barely spin, so you hardly hear the card when it's in your system.

MSI's software is also another centerpiece, as software is just so important these days. The company offers some great software in its Gaming App, as well as its Afterburner software.

When it comes to "should you, or shouldn't you" buy the MSI card, I still recommend it. It can be overclocked to beat the competitors' cards, MSI's software packages are top notch, the cooling system is simply awesome and you have the GTX 960 at its core with NVIDIA's Maxwell architecture being one of the best things to happen to GPUs in a very long time.

If you're after a new video card, MSI's GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition, while not having the best out-of-the-box performance, is definitely a great card. You won't regret the purchase, and you'll have plenty of room to play around with overclocking, which is something MSI has always excelled in. Long live Twin Frozr!

PRICING: You can find the MSI Computer Graphics Cards GTX 960 GAMING 2G for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The MSI Computer Graphics Cards GTX 960 GAMING 2G retails for $209.99 at Amazon.

Canada: The MSI Computer Graphics Cards GTX 960 GAMING 2G retails for CDN$338.68 at Amazon Canada.

TweakTown award
Performance (overclocking, power)90%
Quality (build, cooling, design)95%
General Features (display outputs, etc)95%
Bundle, Packaging & Software90%
Value for Money90%
Overall92%

The Bottom Line: MSI impress with its GeForce GTX 960 GAMING 2G OC Edition video card, with its great cooling setup in the Twin Frozr V down to the overclocking headroom. A great splash of style also doesn't hurt, either.

PRICING: You can find products similar to this one for sale below.

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Anthony is a long time PC enthusiast with a passion of hate for games built around consoles. FPS gaming since the pre-Quake days, where you were insulted if you used a mouse to aim, he has been addicted to gaming and hardware ever since. Working in IT retail for 10 years gave him great experience with custom-built PCs. His addiction to GPU tech is unwavering.

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